Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am pleased that we can have a quick debate about the integrated rail plan this afternoon. My question relates to the capacity and regional capability contained in the plan, particularly for the east-west areas of the north and the Midlands.
I am grateful to the Minister for arranging a Zoom call this morning with Andrew Stephenson MP, the Minister for HS2. We had a useful discussion. I now realise that the IRP appears to be a cut-down version of HS2, with some welcome electrification on the Midland main line and the trans-Pennine route, but which appears not to deal with the capacity issues and the priorities for east-west connectivity, particularly for Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.
Therefore, it did not really surprise me when I received a copy of the letter sent from the chair of Transport for the North to the Secretary of State, dated 26 November. It starts:
“I am writing on behalf of the Transport for the North Board to express our collective disappointment and dismay at the inadequacy of the Integrated Rail Plan; the plan as proposed is unacceptable to the North.”
That is a fairly strong statement from a regional authority. One of the issues it goes into is that the plan fails to deal with infrastructure constraints, particularly around Leeds and Manchester, saying that
“the plan is the wrong solution for the whole of the North and does not deliver the long-term transformation required to level up the North’s economy”.
I shall not go on, as it is a very long letter, but it also mentions that Bradford is left out, despite being the seventh largest local authority area in England by population.
I share Transport for the North’s vision to improve the network and make it as good as the network we have in the south-east around London. One can compare against the routes through the capital, Thameslink and Crossrail, once it opens, which serve dozens of routes on each side for seamless journeys. I would give the time of all those journeys, but I do not think we know them. That is what is particularly missing in terms of capacity across the Pennines and east-west services, including from Birmingham to Derby and Nottingham. In particular, there is a lack of not just through services but local services, connecting many of the smaller towns on the way. I do not know whether that matters to the Government, but it should.
I have one particular concern about Manchester, where the plan is to expand the existing planned HS2 station, so that all trains coming on the line reverse before going across the Pennines to Leeds. On page 65, the report justifies having terminus stations by saying that there are many in Europe, for example in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Zürich, Milan and Rome. It fails to say that all those stations were built probably over 100 years ago, when tunnels were less easy to build. It is also wrong, because the German Government and the German railway company are actually building a through tunnel underneath Stuttgart station. What the Government are proposing is old-fashioned—so be it.
As I said, I welcome the electrification of the Midland main line and the trans-Pennine route. That is a good idea but I point out that a small piece of the HS2 line now planned between Derby and Birmingham is, I think, costed at £11 billion when it would have cost just £2.5 billion to electrify the existing line. The biggest missing issue is that there is nothing in the report about improving the many secondary lines and services in the regions. It is good that Leeds is promised a metro service but I wonder how many decades that will take to come. It is a very good idea, if and when it happens.
On the costs, £96 billion is quoted in the document; it appears that the Government are including HS2 and Network Rail costs in this. It is my calculation that HS2 phases 1 and 2a are going to cost £83 billion to complete. While that has come from whistleblowers and my own estimation, it leaves just £9 billion for the rest of the project, which I hope is wrong. I have to question how much money matters to the Treasury. Many noble Lords will have read an article in the Guardian—I think it was on Monday this week—which said that the Department for Transport was requiring all train operators to prepare plans to cut costs by at least 10%. That is quite critical at this time, when nobody really knows what the forecast of future passengers might be. Has it asked HS2 to do the same? That might be a good thing. With all this, there seems to be very little money left for upgrades, electrification and capacity enhancement because it is all going on HS2.
The other interesting thing is: who will be building and developing all these things? In a series of Written Answers that I received this week, it seems that: Network Rail will be told to upgrade existing lines with help from HS2 to get trains into Leeds; HS2 is going to be building phase 2A and bits in the West Midlands; and there may be a new line for Northern Powerhouse Rail—we are not quite sure where, but I think it stops somewhere at the summit of the Pennines. Where does Great British Railways come into this? Apparently, it has no responsibility for HS2, as I had it from another Written Question some time ago.
Who has the best track record? Network Rail has a very good one on electrification now. It has just completed the Werrington dive-under on the Doncaster line, which is a really good piece of work, if not so cost-effective—
Briefly, Great Western electrification finished about five years ago and Network Rail has improved things as a result. That was true at that time but things have got a lot better.
What is missing from this document is a real acceptance by the Department for Transport that the decision-making on strategies and routes, priorities and deliveries should rest with the northern powerhouse/Transport for the North members—the local authorities which know their areas. That is devolution. I am afraid that the document has demonstrated the department’s inability to plan and deliver to time and budget. It should give TfN a chance.
If the Government were honest in wanting to improve the rail network in the north and Midlands, they would cancel the bits of HS2 that they are funding and put all the remaining funds included in the IPR into not only giving much-improved capacity and speed on the two east-west axes—Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds and Hull, and Sheffield, Birmingham, Derby and Nottingham—but improving the many secondary lines in each area. So many people rely on those for their daily commuting to school, colleges, work, levelling-up and everything else.
I fear that this Department for Transport will result only in nothing happening for the next few years and I hope that it not the case. I hope that the Minister, when she replies, will say that I have got it completely wrong that it does not matter that Bradford is only connected to the south and not east-west. I hope she will sit down with her colleagues in the department and northern powerhouse people and come up with a solution that is acceptable to all.
My Lords, my first trans-Pennine rail journey took place when I was seven. I was living in Preston and my parents decided to send me to school in Wakefield so for the next 10 years I spent rail journeys shuttling backwards and forwards over the Pennines between Lancashire and Yorkshire. Subsequently I became the Member of Parliament for Gateshead West and got to know the east coast line. After that I was a Transport Minister in James Callaghan’s Government and got to know the whole network. More recently, this last year, I was shuttling around the Manchester conurbation on trains going to the party conference and visiting my relatives, family and friends in that area. So, I come at this from that particular committed northern point of view.
The Minister will be glad to know that I therefore strongly and warmly welcome the plan. It seems to be extremely sensible. Of course, the response was subject to the usual political grandstanding, which I fully understand—people have to make their names and the local mayors have to say what they can. But if one wants an objective view, the Institute of Civil Engineers had it just about right when it said it was
“a step in the right direction”.
I was concerned, as many have been, that the huge cost of HS2 would gradually erode the necessary funds from all across the east-west connections and the local connections which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke so eloquently about. It seems that possibility has now lessened with this recalibration of the whole programme. I was surprised by what he said about the crucial east-west line between Liverpool, Warrington, Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York, because that is clearly inked in as an improvement. Bradford, which was neglected by HS2 itself, has an improvement in that the line between Leeds and Bradford is electrified and the time comes down to 12 minutes; we could hardly improve on that. All this has led to a much better scope for what we want in the east-west improvements.
The integration has been improved. It always seemed like the HS2 original plan was like a fork stuck up the middle of England without much connection with the rest of the network. All of that has been improved to the advancement of towns such as Derby and Nottingham. Finally, the whole thing has been brought forward in time. The original HS2 document planned no real improvements until 2040. Now we are promised at least 10 years earlier than that—I might live to see some of this myself for heaven’s sake—so that is a vast improvement.
The broad statement of the Institute of Civil Engineers about this being a move in the right direction is correct. But it also says that in the next 12 months there should be a detailed analysis and working out of what should happen. I hope that the Minister will commit the Government to doing that. It is essential that we now get a move on.
I agree with the objectives of the integrated rail plan but, as far as the east and north-east of England are concerned, the plan fails to meet them. HS2 was never going to do much for the north-east and now, cut back, it will do virtually nothing for it. The plan leaves the east coast main line, in the words of the Railway Magazine, as the “withered arm” of the system.
In the plan, there are infrastructure improvements to the east coast line, but lack of capacity remains severely limiting to passenger and freight services for years to come. Why is there no commitment to reopening the Leamside line in County Durham? That would solve a significant capacity problem and allow for further development of local services. The report says that
“the case for re-opening the Leamside route would be best considered as part of any future city region settlement”.
What settlement? What city region? What plans do the Government have to bring this forward, and why would it not have been better to include this project in the integrated plan? In this respect, it is a disintegrated plan.
A further consequence of not doing enough to increase line capacity is that improvements to London services, and to cross-country and trans-Pennine ones, are dependent on robbing Peter to pay Paul—in other words, reducing services from some stations to speed up or accommodate more services from Edinburgh to London. The report says that journey times from London to York, the north-east and Edinburgh will be reduced by around 25 minutes “subject to stopping patterns”. We know what that means, because we saw it in LNER’s draft timetable, now delayed to 2023. It means reducing services and lengthening journey times from some stations, such as Berwick and Darlington—the very opposite of levelling up.
It appears that preparation for service reductions is already being made by LNER, with a major reduction in travel centre staffing hours and consequent redundancies. It is a very odd time to be doing this, not only in advance of decisions on the integrated rail plan but with the planned handover of responsibility for station staff from LNER to Great British Railways. They should surely leave decisions such as that until that transfer has taken place.
All the maps in the integrated rail plan show the east coast main line petering out north of Newcastle, ignoring the existence of Alnmouth and Berwick. That is a sad symbol for a serious weakness in the plan. In his introduction to the plan, Grant Shapps talks of a
“modern network for the whole country, benefiting small towns alongside big cities sooner than previous proposals”.
It does not look like that from the small town of Berwick, which is the real access point for the whole of the eastern borders, or from the cities of eastern England, especially Newcastle and Sunderland.
HS2, as planned, was primarily of benefit to Birmingham and the north-west, and that is even more the case since the eastern arm part of the plan was chopped back. While the north-west may benefit, on the eastern side of England we will still not even have adequate linkage to the area whose prosperity might well be improved by faster rail services. We will not be part of that, and this is not going to achieve levelling up.
There are two aspects of the integrated rail plan that I strongly welcome: the decision to move ahead with a metro system for Leeds and the decision to electrify the midland main line and the trans- Pennine line. However, these both reflect chaotic and inconsistent transport planning over the last 25 years.
Noble Lords from Leeds—and I see that my noble friend Lady Blake, the former leader of Leeds City Council, is here—will know that a tram system for Leeds was first proposed more than 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the Government of which I was a member cancelled that plan. There was supposed to be a trolleybus scheme, but that bit the dust too. We have now come full circle. Indeed, I think that the Government of which the noble Lord, Lord Horam, was a member first proposed the serious upgrading of metro services in and around Leeds, and I admire his confidence that things will now happen with an alacrity with which they failed to happen in previous decades.
The same is true of both electrification schemes. Electrification of the midland main line and the trans-Pennine line was announced 10 years ago. Midland main line electrification was supposed to follow on directly from Great Western electrification which, despite the remarks of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, has been a textbook case of disaster in terms of cost overruns, descoping and failure to meet proper project management specifications. Both those electrification schemes were then cancelled because of cost overruns and austerity, and they are being revived. We are now being told that they are a great offering to the Midlands and the north and should make us confident that there will be transformational capacity in the Midlands and the north, when in fact they are schemes that should have been delivered many years ago, if we had any proper planning.
However, the two big decisions in terms of changes of policy in the integrated rail plan—the cancellation of the eastern leg of HS2 and the cancellation of the new east-west line that was intended to link the northern cities—are both utterly deplorable. They are deplorable in three ways. First, in transport policy terms they are deplorable. As the noble Lord, Lord Beith, just said, the eastern side of the country will now essentially be left out of the high-speed rail plan. This will produce a new east-west divide in this country on top of the north-south divide, and overcoming it was a large part of the intention of HS2 in the first place. When HS2 is now completed, it will take nearly twice as long to get to Leeds as to get to Manchester and there will be only a fraction of the rail capacity going to the eastern side of the country—Sheffield and Leeds—because there is no high-speed line. High-speed lines treble rail capacity and allow an enormous release of capacity for new local services of the kind that my noble friend Lord Berkeley was talking about.
The second reason why it is deplorable is that it is a complete uprooting of proper and systematic infrastructure planning. The plan for HS2 was announced more than 10 years ago. It followed exhaustive work by HS2 Ltd. Indeed, it went back to the plan that the noble Lord, Lord Birt, produced for the Blair Government in 2003, which recommended that the Government look systematically at the introduction of high-speed lines between our major conurbations. I was privileged to be the first chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission in 2015. The first report of the National Infrastructure Commission said that HS2 should be completed to Manchester and Leeds and that there should be a new east-west line.
The third aspect in which it is deplorable is that it uproots cross-party working. We will get no serious infrastructure built in this country unless there is cross-party agreement, because it takes many Parliaments to build big infrastructure. There was cross-party agreement to HS2 and a new east-west line. There is not cross-party agreement for this integrated rail plan. It is a dog’s breakfast. The Opposition have said they have no confidence in it and will seek to change it if they come to power. We are therefore going to take a massive step back in terms of the upgrading of the infrastructure of this country, and the principal loser will unfortunately be the whole eastern side of the country, which could be at a massive economic disadvantage as a result of the IRP, compared with the Midlands and the north-west.
My Lords, I am a proud Liverpudlian and chair of a business headquartered in Yorkshire. Well into the last century, most people, like my grandfather, walked to work. No longer. Modern business requires a multiplicity of skills, from technologists to service engineers to data scientists to financial analysts and myriad more. Most people travel significant distances to work and while they undertake their work, mostly not on trains but in cars, vans and HGVs.
Economically, it is best to think of the heartland of the north, from Liverpool through Manchester to Leeds, as a single metropolitan area with a huge population. The north has long had a wholly inadequate road and rail system to connect its major centres. The M62 is seriously jammed for many hours of the day. By way of example, Halifax and Huddersfield are only eight miles apart, but the direct route between these two famous towns is through hilly country on narrow, bending and heavily trafficked roads, and at rush hour the eight-mile journey can take a whopping 45 minutes. By train, it takes an incredible one hour and 46 minutes to travel the 74 miles from Liverpool to Leeds at a sluggish 42 miles per hour.
To unleash its potential, the north needs not just a rail plan but an integrated rail and road plan. That plan would create a strategic road network and, inter alia, relieve the pressure on the M62 and enable rail to do what rail does best: moving people into, out of and between major metropolitan areas. Leeds and Liverpool need to be connected to London by high-speed rail. London is an unrivalled global centre of financial and professional skill and, to prosper, the north needs effective connectivity with it. Remarkably, under the Government’s proposals in future it will be quicker to reach London from Manchester than to reach Leeds from Liverpool. That is truly shocking. The north will not thrive until the Government focus equally on all three of its major metropolitan areas.
For the past 70 years—not 25, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said—we have had the worst record of any major country in the world in investing in our national transport infrastructure. The Treasury bears prime responsibility for that. High-speed rail is the most vivid example. The International Union of Railways records that China has 38,000 kilometres of high-speed rail, Spain has 3,500, France has 2,700 and the UK—any guesses?—has 113 kilometres. That is 24 times less than France.
That is truly shameful, and it illuminates a horrible truth about our politics: all the pressures on our highly disputatious political system press on the short and not on the long term. This is less than half a plan and I do not expect to see that change.
My Lords, this is neither integrated nor really a plan. I wish to correct the noble Lord, Lord Horam; the Institution of Civil Engineers actually said that this was
“at best … a step in the right direction.”
Northern Powerhouse Rail has now shrunk to a new line between Warrington and Marsden—a village west of Huddersfield—without any clarity as to whether that will involve doubling the Standedge tunnel to remove the bottleneck in the middle. Are the Government confident that they can reopen the two very old single-line tunnels on either side of the current double Standedge tunnel for fast and electrified trains? If they cannot, a new tunnel will be needed somewhere, which makes the case for it being somewhere different, rather than simply doubling the Standedge tunnel. That is the case for a second fast trans-Pennine link, which the Government have just denied.
This is a question of capacity. I have heard several times about the sheer difficulty of finding additional freight paths across the Pennines. The idea that freight between Liverpool and Hull must go on the M62 because there is not enough space on our railway network for container trains is absurd—but that is where we are. Tunnels and capacity are essential.
After all, the concept of a “northern powerhouse” rested on bringing together Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield, with links to Hull and Newcastle, and their surrounding cities and towns, into a metropolitan network comparable to that from which Greater London already benefits. I fear the slogan has now outlived its credibility and therefore ought to be abandoned. The concept included reopening or upgrading a number of local feeder lines, which are also important to economic regeneration, but the core of the concept was fast lines to bring together the major cities across the north.
Bradford is one of those major cities. I declare an interest; I live in the Bradford metropolitan region and benefit from one of the very few electrified local lines in the north, so at least I can get from Saltaire to London and back via Leeds. However, getting from Saltaire to Sheffield or Manchester is a very long, slow and difficult process, because the lines do not go through the tunnels or south from Bradford to Huddersfield and Sheffield. We need to link in Bradford, Halifax and the northern Pennine towns to this metropolitan network. Without a second link, or at the very least a substantial rebuilding of the Calder Valley line, which flooded badly two years ago, we condemn Bradford as a city, and Halifax and the Pennine towns, to long-term decline.
The Minister for Rail, as MP for Pendle, ought at least to know this; Pendle is one of the most economically deprived areas in Britain, which is partly because its transport links are so poor. I am shocked that the Department for Transport has declined to provide even a small sum to look at the feasibility of opening the Skipton-Colne link—a third link across the Pennines —because it does not think that it is justifiable.
As has already been said, it takes an enormously long time to travel from Leeds to Liverpool, and it is very complicated to travel from Bradford to Sheffield. Bradford to Manchester is a long and slow journey on a crowded two-carriage or three-carriage diesel train. However, the costs of two miles of extra tunnelling in south London to link the expensive new property developments around Battersea power station are justified, apparently because the foreign owners of those new properties have contributed to the Conservative Party. I hope that is not correct, but that is what Private Eye suggests to me.
What this looks like is “If it’s in the north, it costs too much”. The potential impact of economic transformation is left out of the calculation. If it is in London, it is essential to maintaining the region’s prosperity. I hope that is not the case the Government will continue to make.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for introducing this important debate and thank the Minister for the useful and informative session this morning exploring the plan. I have it here with me, and my eyes are drawn irresistibly to page 15, where it states:
“Bringing local transport systems outside London to the standards of the capital is a critical part of levelling up, driving growth and prosperity.”
This was raised in a separate debate last week, since when we have moved from the absurdity of a three-month financial deal for TfL to the farce of a one-week deal.
The Minister will have us believe that the situation is all the fault of the mayor. However, the truth is that it is solely the result of the Conservative Government’s political animus towards London. I know it; Londoners, from business leaders to poverty campaigners, know it; the whole world knows it. I suspect even the Minister knows it.
The failure to adequately finance TfL is directly relevant to the Integrated Rail Plan and connectivity in the northern powerhouse, for two reasons. First, the Government have set London as the standard to which other cities should be levelled up. Poorer services in London will mean poorer provision in cities in the north and the Midlands. Secondly, and crucially, this is not a zero-sum game. Growth and prosperity in London are as important to people in the north and the Midlands as they are to Londoners.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak at this point. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on introducing this short debate.
As a frequent user of the east coast main line services and to his lesser extent the trans-Pennine services, I am familiar with the difficulties, in particular with east-west connectivity, and I support many of the points that have been made this afternoon. I will just make a simple plea to the Minister and to her department. Many of the picturesque mill towns that are served by the east-west route are deserving of a completely new line. What was attractive about the Integrated Rail Plan was that it recognised the level of investment which was required. I regret that the subsequent document has now been downgraded, with plans looking only to deliver a combination of new track and upgrades to existing infrastructure, rather than an entirely new line. I realise that this is a blueprint—a first step along the way—but I hope that my noble friend will take the opportunity to revisit this as soon as she possibly can. That one simple step will open up and unlock the whole of the northern powerhouse economy, and I believe it is entirely in keeping with the government agenda to do so.
My Lords, the IRP should have been a blueprint to enable the north to deliver its transformational economic vision. The disappointment and sense of betrayal felt across the region is immense and I hope that the Government are listening and will act accordingly. I thank the Minister for the briefing we had this morning. Of course we welcome the commitments in the plan, but we are very concerned about the gaps.
As we have heard, authorities across the Midlands, the north and the north-east have spent at least 10 years and more planning for the arrival of HS2’s eastern leg, integrated into Northern Powerhouse Rail. We know that it is about not just speed but capacity, taking pressure off Victorian infrastructure and freeing up the existing line for more local express services and freight trains. Most of all, as I have said, it is about economic transformation. The investment would have supported 150,000 new jobs at least, and stimulated a gross value uplift to the economy of £200 billion. These are the factors not taken into consideration in terms of investment versus further economic viability.
Leeds is a very successful city. It is the financial centre of the north of England and plans already made have been attracting new businesses to come to Leeds: Channel 4, the Bank of England and the UK Infrastructure Bank are examples. Integrated plans have been drawn up to accommodate HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail at Leeds station; the idea that they are separate schemes is just not the case. The argument has been well made that the eastern leg provides a better economic return than any other stretch of HS2. Why, despite all the rumours of cancellation, did the Department for Transport not even have the decency to inform local authorities, until the plan was published, that the elements between Leeds and Sheffield would be included?
Funding commitments are always welcome but we face more delays, more studies, and more vague timeframes, and know that some sections will be delivered later than originally planned. Is this really the ambition of the Government’s levelling-up agenda?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for initiating this debate. His indefatigable approach to all things transport always leaves me feeling slightly exhausted, because he brings so many things to our attention.
The integrated rail plan was announced only on 18 November, but already there are rumours of a U-turn. I want to wade straight in with a question to the Minister on the accuracy of recent reports in the Telegraph newspaper that the traction decarbonisation network strategy, the £30 billion plan to decarbonise the railways in the next 30 years, has been shelved. If that is even slightly true, how do the Government plan to deliver a net zero-emission rail network by 2050? As the noble Lord, Lord Birt, pointed out, we are already way behind other nations, not just in electrification but in the development of high-speed rail. How do the Government’s spending priorities in this respect stack up, when there appears to be a continued commitment to the £27 billion roads programme?
To say that the integrated rail plan went down like a lead balloon across most of the north and Midlands is an understatement. The headlines were of course about HS2 but the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, pointed out that HS2 was as much about capacity as it was about speed. By abandoning the grand plan and going instead for a patchwork of upgrades, the Government will be creating very little additional capacity. My noble friend Lord Beith has explained that issue. I am concerned about the lack of a cost-benefit analysis undertaken on these plans. Any rail upgrades carry a heavy burden of costs of disruption of existing infrastructure—not just to the railways but to the roads. The Great Western electrification, which took 10 years, involved the closure of the railway system at weekends and involved central Cardiff roads being closed for a year at a time to raise bridges, for example. The disruption was tremendous.
The blow to investment plans for northern cities, which have been based on the arrival of HS2, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, pointed out, is considerable. Birmingham has demonstrated the attraction of HS2 for investors. There was a major levelling-up opportunity. It has not just been missed; worse, it has been struck down when it was already under way.
There is hardly a reference in this document to freight. There is hardly an improvement at all to the situation at Bradford, the nation’s seventh-largest city, which has effectively been abandoned and left with appalling transport links. Once again, the Government are centralising power, thinking they know best, by taking power from Transport for the North and making decisions on behalf of the people of the north.
This plan is a disgrace, and it is no way forward for a nation that wants to hold its head up in the modern world.
I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for securing this debate. He asked a number of questions of the Government, to which I too will be interested to hear the answers.
We will hear from the Government about the reduced amount of money they now intend to invest in our railway network as a result of their broken promises—only they will not describe it that way. Instead, they will portray it as a brilliant new programme of investment which will deliver more than the original programme they had repeatedly promised. Try telling that to the people of Bradford, for example, as the integrated rail plan does not include the new high-speed trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford, which is a key component of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project. Try telling it to the people of Leeds, who, after 10 years of investment and planning based on the Government’s clear—but now reneged on—proposal to bring HS2 to their city have, insultingly, been left with only a government statement in the plan about looking further into the most effective way of running HS2 trains to Leeds.
If the reduced rail investment programme was actually going to deliver more than the programme repeatedly promised by the Prime Minister—which it will not—it begs the question of why it has taken this Government more than 11 years to find that out. If the answer is that the costs of HS2 have risen during that time, that is simply an admission by the Government that they lack the ability to exercise any meaningful control over costs, as happened with the Great Western main line electrification, which, like HS2 now, was cut back and left unfinished.
As the Government cannot control costs today, they will be unable to control future costs even of their now greatly reduced rail investment programme. The integrated rail plan was supposed to present a blueprint for how HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and trans-Pennine upgrades could all be integrated and delivered in parallel. We now have a watered-down HS2, a failure to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail at all, and money to deliver upgrades that were needed not instead of but alongside the high-speed lines.
The upgrades will not provide the capacity the network needs, including for local services and rail freight, to become more reliable and efficient; will not create the infrastructure required to attract business investment; and will result in significant disruption to existing services while the upgrade work is undertaken, which would not be the case with the construction of new high-speed lines. Not all the investment left in the integrated rail plan is even new, timeframes are vague, and it appears that some new line sections may well be delivered later than under the original HS2 and NPR proposals.
By trading off fast strategic national rail links and higher-quality local ones against one another and prioritising short-term fixes and cost savings, the truncated plan is likely to fail to meet future demand and deliver the social, environmental and economic outcomes promised under the previous HS2 and NPR proposals. Those projects were about boosting the northern and Midland economies, as HS2 is already doing for the Midlands; closing the transport investment gap with London; rebalancing the economy and levelling up, creating thousands and thousands of new jobs; connecting millions more people and businesses in our major towns and cities in our industrial heartlands; and taking car and lorry trips off our roads to help address the climate emergency.
The truncated rail plan, which will also lead to the sidelining of Transport for the North, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, is driven by those in government who want simply to achieve the lowest capital cost they think they can get away with. Instead, as my noble friend Lady Blake of Leeds said, we should be looking at the whole-life benefits of major projects and programmes—economic, social and environmental —as the major cities in the north, north-east and Midlands were doing with their investment and planning while they still believed the Prime Minister’s now worthless promises on HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. If there were any doubts before, there can be none now: the Prime Minister’s slogans about levelling up and building back better are just that—slogans—and nothing more.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for this wonderful Christmas present on the last day of term: a debate about Northern Powerhouse Rail and the integrated rail plan. I am enormously grateful for the thoughtful contributions that have been made and to many noble Lords for coming to the briefing this morning. I am happy to arrange further briefings in due course, as obviously, plans will develop.
We know that this is an issue of huge importance to places across the north and the Midlands, as well as to the rail and construction industry. I understand that there are strong feelings about rail investment across the country. We all want to ensure a fair deal that enables economic growth, employment opportunities and better connectivity. We as a Government must also make sure that it offers value for money for the taxpayer.
I thank my noble friend Lord Horam for his warm words for the plan; they were few and far between from other contributors. I believe that this Government are taking the right action when it comes to the integrated rail plan. At £96 billion it is an enormous programme; indeed, it is the largest single investment in rail ever made by any UK Government. I believe that it will reshape our railways in the north and the Midlands.
The plan will provide those benefits quicker, which is really important when we are looking at timeframes of 10, 20, even 30 years. These are long timeframes, and we need to be able to bring those benefits to communities as soon as we possibly can. There is a boost for eight of the 10 busiest rail corridors. We will speed up journeys, increase capacity and run more frequent services, all much earlier than previously planned. I, too, hope to be alive when some of these benefits are felt.
Let me share a few examples of the transformation plans in the IRP. Journey times from Sheffield to London will be slashed by around half an hour, and we will more than double the number of seats on Sheffield to London services. Darlington will benefit from faster and more reliable connections to places on the east coast main line, with the potential to add additional seats as required as demand grows. The time it takes to travel from Leeds to Manchester will reduce over time from 53 minutes to just over half an hour. I do not think that is bad at all; in fact, it takes me half an hour to get from Norbiton to Waterloo.
The first of these big improvements, a reduction to just over 40 minutes, will be seen later this decade. Again, this comes back to the speed at which we can make these changes. Of course, there will also be significant increases in seat capacity. We will electrify the entire trans-Pennine route, install full digital signalling and add longer sections of three and four-tracking to allow fast trains to overtake stopping services. The IRP is absolutely focused on bringing communities in the north and the Midlands closer together, boosting intercity connections and improving east-west links.
Noble Lords will be aware that there are three high-speed lines coming: Crewe to Manchester; Birmingham to the east Midlands; and the £23 billion we are investing in Northern Powerhouse Rail, which includes the brand-new high-speed line from Warrington to Manchester. The proposals set out by Transport for the North—TfN—for NPR would have come at a cost to places on the existing main lines such as Huddersfield, which would have seen little improvement or a worsening in services. They would have made Manchester to Leeds journeys only four minutes faster than the option we have chosen, at a cost of an extra £18 billion.
We will upgrade the east coast main line. It is important to note that there will be a package of investment in track improvements and digital signalling to bring down journey times from Edinburgh, Newcastle, Darlington and Leeds to London. Again, these benefits will be available to communities much sooner than previously planned.
This debate was focused on capacity and regional connectivity, issues that were woven into comments from all noble Lords today. In many instances we will see very significant capacity improvements, particularly from Manchester to London, where there will be both capacity and journey time improvements. There is a potential to treble capacity between Manchester and Birmingham. The changes to the east coast main line have the potential to increase capacity.
Many noble Lords will want details and accurate descriptions of exactly what capacity will be provided for whom and when. We do not know that now. This is a plan, and there is an enormous amount of work to do to move from the plan to the next level down—to the detail about how this will actually work on the ground. While in some places we can be very clear about what capacity improvements will be available, in others there will be an enormous amount of designing to do and engineering options to look at, particularly when it comes to upgrading lines. So, service frequency, capacity and duration of journeys may be subject to change, but, of course, we always want to maximise capacity, increase service levels and reduce journey times.
I note that there was a cynical comment about “subject to stopping”. Trains have to stop: that is their job. How else do you get passengers on and off them? But, of course, we have to think about the best way to look at the frequency of services, particularly to intermediate towns between the large economic nodes. That is really important when it comes to planning journey times and the frequency of stopping.
On freight capacity, although an awful lot of work has been done on this, I think all of us in government would admit that we did not put enough of that into the integrated rail plan. I know we will work very hard to provide more information on this in due course.
The interesting thing is that west and east are not the same. There seems to be this feeling that if the west gets something, the east has to have exactly the same, but they are very different railway markets. Not only is the western leg of the route, from Crewe to Manchester, broadly agreed but we will be able to proceed with it much faster, and the benefits in terms of connecting significant cities are clear. But on the eastern leg, the market is more balanced. Unlike the western leg, there are far more credible choices to explore for upgrading existing sections of railway network, combined with new lines and longer trains. Those will bring the benefits that we want to see.
The underlying case for investment in the rail network in the north and Midlands remains very strong. Regional connectivity is at the heart of everything we do on rail improvements in the north. Again, integration is absolutely key. I have made the case before that plans were previously set out in isolation. They connected very large economic nodes, and kind of forgot about everywhere else in between. Many of the smaller places—although we are still talking about significant places such as Leicester, Kettering, Grantham and Newark—will benefit from the improvements coming down the track through the IRP.
At the heart of what we are doing—and this is why I think continued conversations will be beneficial—is the core pipeline. We have set out what it looks like, and any further schemes will be subject to affordability constraints and considerations. We also want to be able to deliver commitments on time and on budget. So, those are all the key things we will be thinking about.
So we have this core pipeline at the heart, and then there is this adaptive approach which sits around it. Noble Lords have mentioned, for example, Skipton-Colne. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned secondary lines. There is an awful lot of work to be done around how else, having gone with the core, we can maximise the connectivity into those harder-to-reach places which perhaps previously have not had good services.
I hear the concerns raised by some people from Leeds. We have looked extremely carefully and are very keen to keep working on what we can do there. We are spending £100 million on development work to look at the best way to get HS2 trains to Leeds from the east Midlands. Obviously, we will look at the current station and how it could absorb the additional capacity. I am as keen as anyone to see a mass transit network for west Yorkshire, and I am absolutely committed to working with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on this. There was a comment about it perhaps taking decades, but that is probably not in the Government’s hands. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority is the sponsor of the project and we will look to it to bring forward plans that are well thought through and which represent good value for money for the taxpayer.
I was going to mention the electrification of the Midland main line, but perhaps I will not, because I would like to address the issue around Transport for the North and its role going forward. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned the letter from TfN and how it did not welcome the plan. Of course it did not welcome it; it was not TfN’s plan. We have made changes to its plan, but of course we do listen to what TfN has to say and any input that it has, as we do with all the sub-national transport bodies. I have a very close relationship with all of them. We want to work with TfN going forward in a collaborative way to ensure that we can maximise the benefits of our investment. Not everyone will always get exactly what they want. That is one of the huge challenges with planning transport networks. However, we can listen, and TfN will have a really important part, as it will be co-sponsor of the project and therefore will have a key role in providing that sponsorship to the project as it goes forward.
On the Leamside line, the north-east is eligible for a multiyear city region sustainable transport settlement. Unfortunately, we need the governance structures to be in place for it to have the CRSTS. We are working very closely to encourage the local area to form a combined authority, and then we will be able to think about providing funding, which may or not subsequently be used for the Leamside line.
There is a huge amount of opportunity for rail in the north and the Midlands. Many of the questions raised cannot be answered now, not because I do not have the answers to hand but because they do not yet exist. We have an awful lot of work ahead of us, which is why we are very keen to continue the conversations around the plan that we have and the proposals that may or may not augment that plan. However, from where I am at this moment, this plan, with £96 billion to be invested in rail in the Midlands and the north, to be delivered over the next 30 years, is a good one.